Norman Rush, the introspective writer that he is, has brought to the bright lights (after three books in Africa) his much-anticipated new novel "Subtle Bodies." A subtle body, according to mystical teachings and even the occult, is one section of a whole psycho-spiritual element in man. According to spiritual teachers a "subtle body corresponds to a subtle plane of existence in a hierarchy that climaxes in the physical." Whether Rush is the spiritualist or not, the idea of a subtle body, all connected and rushing into each other, gives the novel its probity.
We follow the story of five college friends, each with his own tribulations and fabulousness dating to NYU in the '70s. One of the troop dies in an accident, and they get together at his memorial. They haven't seen each other for two decades, but the bonds, the trimmings and all the rest are still very much there. But can love and friendship withstand all the natural and illicit elements?
The third-person narrated novel, Rush's shortest, dips into the ways women and men see the world -- the perspectives deep and different, perfect and wrecked. But the brilliance of Rush is in the conversations, completely not fraught and always part of the way that real people that you know, and want to know, speak. That's the brilliance of Norman Rush, who wrote "Mating" so long ago, a work still shining brightly.
Death, and the way Rush sees death in particular, is what brings these characters back together in a spring-like jump. It compels them to witness real death, to question it, prod it and then to bring it close to their hearts and see whether the clock ticks for them. But then there is the disarray when the eulogies that start to clear their throats bring to light the lies and filth we spin as humans even to our closest friends. The achievers are less achieved, the losers are less pathetic; we're all just human -- can you believe it? Rush captures this in each of the characters; no matter how crazy they appear to be from the outside it is their subtle parts that glow.